SonicBlast 2022, Portugal

SonicBlast 2022
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SonicBlast Festival 2022

Vila Praia de Âncora – Portugal

August 11th – 13th 2022

Review by: Emanuel Ferreira

Photography by: Miguel de Melo

SonicBlast 2022

Sun, beach, waves and riffs. What else could one wish? Seafood, beer, or wine, if you are into that sort of thing? Ok, that and more. Anyway, it is just Sonic Blast on its 10th edition. A Portuguese festival full of stoner and psych rock, where most of the attendants come from abroad. Have I mentioned sun, waves and riffs?

SonicBlast Crowd

Ten years ago Ricardo and Telma had this crazy idea of building lineups, mixing local bands with international acts they love. Sonic Blast was born! The accommodating reception and friendly low key atmosphere made bands want to keep asking to come back. If you look at the lineups you’ll always spot familiar names who have played the festival along the years. This time, even Electric Wizard chose to stay for a week, just to be at the fest. Maybe it is just not the sun, waves and riffs…

Toxic Shock
Toxic Shock

The first night of the festival has become legendary. It is just a welcome warmup night, but most bands who play will eventually end up on the main stage the following year, or, as it happened this year with El Perro and Toxic Shock, just a couple of days later. The smaller stage – Stage 3, was where it all kicked off this year. Early in the afternoon, and at the end of the night (well up to 4am), you find bands playing Stage 3. Between that, everything happens on the two main stages, placed side by side, with not much difference between them – just a practical switch of sound checks. Same size PA.

Day one, local bands Pledge and Madmess occupied the first slots. Devil and the Almighty Blues, from Norway, were a perfect sum of the way a Sonic band should be. Stoners, but not Kyuss copy cats. Different and interesting enough to keep people focused on the stage. Arnt O. Andersen is charismatic as a vocalist, and ends up being supported by a band that knows how to play the chosen role.

Next was Slomosa, who started with one less guitar and did not add much to the sunny afternoon. People were still arriving at the festival. King Buffalo were as interesting as they were consistent, though. Something that did not happen with Meatbodies. The Californian trio did little to advance the line-up and was perhaps even the weakest offer of the day.

W.I.T.C.H.
W.I.T.C.H.

“We Intend to Cause Havoc” is a 2019 documentary about the Zamrock movement that emerged in Zambia in the 70s, placing the word rock on African soil. It is also the meaning of W.I.T.C.H. formed in 1972, which lasted in this original formation until 1980. They were resurrected in late 2012 thanks to the duo Emanyeo “Jagari” Chanda and Patrick Mwondela. Unfortunately, only Emanyeo was able to be present and brought along his regular supporting band for the party. Perfect timing, the sunset has arrived, the musicians joining the stage one by one, whilst an instrumental is in progress, Jagari enters. It’s a mix of rock, 70’s prog and some influences from local Zambia music. There was enough creativity to create a good theme on the spot, on the stage and an audience that, after the novelty effect, found itself divided between feeling the music and making time for the next ones. A piece of history at a festival that is spreading music borders.

Nick Oliveri - Stöner
Nick Oliveri – Stöner

The night brought legends of stoner rock. Eddie Glass came with Nebula, mixing new songs like “Warzone Speedwulf” or “Witching Hour” with classics such as “All The Way”.

Next on the lineup, not a “classic” band, but with two classic names, guitarist Brant Bjork and bassist Nick Oliveri, take on the main stage with Stöner. Obviously, they performed songs from the band’s two studio albums, but of course, the visit to Kyuss material was inevitable.

Brant Bjork - Stöner
Brant Bjork – Stöner

A household name at this fest is usually followed by something different that slaps you in the face. This time, Belgians Toxic Shock were the culprits. Their singer is a force to be reckoned with and gave one of the best performances at the festival.

The French band SLIFT were next and were just amazing. The trio comes from Toulouse, and mix some stoner influences with screamo, sometimes resembling At The Drive In, and not just for the energy they apply in every song. The sort of band you can easily expect to become huge! The day ended with Portuguese bands Travo and Cobrafuma.

SLIFT
SLIFT

Day 2, and loads of festival goers were at the beach. The sea is just some steps away from the fest. A small town is five minutes away, with tons of local restaurants, generally serving great locally sourced fresh seafood, and a fantastic local market. Meanwhile, Rosy Finch, 24/7 Diva Heaven and Luna Vieja were the bands playing. Spain is a few miles away, half the audience is Spanish as well as many of the bands. Things went better for Dutch band The Machine, as they approached the jam spirit, practically instrumental, and the riffs flowed. Something tells me the Brits Green Lung are likely to get pretty big on this scene. Only for now, they’re an afternoon slot filler at a festival like this.

On other hand Matthew Baty is an example of how a good frontman can inject testosterone into a group with average songs. It makes all the difference in the rock of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. Adam Ian Sykes is a good guitar player, John-Michael is a crazy bassist who makes the least expected faces and seems to vibrate every string with 10-scale pain, but Matthew Baty is the man. He sings, jumps, dives into the crowd and does the party all by himself. A presence inversely proportional to his stature.

El Perro
El Perro

El Perro redeemed itself from the lukewarm concert on the first night of the festival. More cohesive than the opening night performance, now with a percussionist, in a jam that, although not improvised, sounded like such and showed how they all had fun on stage. In addition, Frankie and The Witch Fingers had a lot of fun on stage and excited the crowd. However as the show progressed, they didn’t appear to bring anything new, then sounded weaker as they left their traditional stoner tunes behind and embarked on a more popular rock journey. All that was left was a bit of comedy value.

As a contrast, Conan came across looking very serious. They may sound easier to listen to nowadays, but still have the same friendly smile as a demolition crew. Maximum distortion, and all the images of happy music and beautiful riffs that the afternoon has brought just crumble amidst the riffage of Conan.

Conan
Conan

Witch are Dinosaur Jr’s guitarist J Mascis’ baby. Tonight, Mario Rubalcaba, drummer of Earthless, replaces Mascis. “Seer” and “Hand of Glory” were some of the best themes in a concert that ended on a high note, but which didn’t always justify the band’s presence on the line-up. A presence, must be said, highly anticipated for years by the organisers.

The Galicians Moura brought a very interesting and colourful fusion of prog, folk and rock. A sound very much their own, with roots in the 70s, and the usual fusion of styles that prog often provides, but duly updated for today. It’s a good discovery of a name that could serve multiple festivals of different styles, given the eclecticism of its sound.

Sonic Blast is the kind of festival that sells out early, but with people coming and going it’s not easy to notice how many people are attending. With Electric Wizard however it was easy to find out. Jus Oborn today is less nihilistic than in the past, smiles and seems happier with life, but that didn’t make their sound any less crushing. They played a monstrous set, which started with “Return Trip”, went through “Drugula”, “Incense for the Damned” and “Black Mass”, and ended with the unavoidable “Chosen Few” and “Funeralopolis”. It sounded like the day Lemmy didn’t take any speed and decided to play Black Sabbath, always ending up with people in a trance. The quartet had its biggest audience in Portugal so far, and they were an immersive black hole, sucking all energy in the vicinity as expected.

Electric Wizard
Electric Wizard

Kaleidobolt are mega instrumentalists, they put in 30 seconds more notes and chords than in an Electric Wizard theme. The complete sonic antithesis. Good, but boring for someone who had been mesmerised by the reverberation of Jus Oborn’s band. Even so, they took a positive note on a night that still had, on Stage 3, The Goners and Deathchant. The night was still young for the hard party goers.

The last day still offered some surprises. First Bala, with one of the best rock albums of last year. Before them Deathchant, Samavay, and The Black Wizards came on the bill.

Bala, being a Galician act, attracted many followers. The duo’s groovy rock, mixing stoner and grunge, is effective. The same goes for Mdou Moctar, as the Tuareg from Niger delivered an excellent show, and came as a surprise for most of the audience that was gathering for Pentagram. In the end, a ten-minute version of “Afrique Victime” led everyone to dance and sing along. Even the occasional mosh pit appeared.

Bala
Bala

From New Jersey, Chris Kosnik, Bob Pantella and Garrett Sweeny. Three-fifths of Monster Magnet form The Atomic Bitchwax. It was a comeback to the festival, one of many. Starting with “Frankenstein”, originally for The Edgar Winter Group, the trio gave a good concert of hard rock, heavy and with a very communicative Chris Kosnik telling jokes, although ending up repeating a lot of the same gimmick used in previous appearances. It is known that “Giant” is Pantella’s favourite tune, and Kosnik prefers “Birth to the Earth”.

The Atomic Bitchwax
The Atomic Bitchwax
Pentagram
Pentagram

What can you say about Pentagram? Five decades have passed since Bobby Liebling and Geof O’Keefe decided to start the band. Now everyone seems to be on the fence between watching a legend that still delivers a pretty solid show, or forever cherish the memories a very good complete old band. Despite the fact, not many tunes have been changed from the originals, it’s easy for the charismatic Liebling to improvise, adding comical grins and some irreverence, often reminiscent of Ozzy, in the way he loses himself on stage. Starting with “Run My Course” from their first Album, they continued the performance through songs like “The Ghoul”, “Sign of the Wolf”, and “Last Days Here”, presented in an almost dramatic way by Liebling, praising those present for being able to see one of his latest performances. A very good gig, ending with Bobby at the bars signing autographs and taking selfies with the audience.

1000 Mods
1000 Mods

Meanwhile, the Greeks 1000 Mods returned to the festival on Stage 2. The stoners are now a more tight and melodic group with a firm presence in post-rock. It’s interesting to see how they have evolved since their first presence at SonicBlast.

My Sleeping Karma also returned to SonicBlast and the Germans’ fan base has grown since the last time. Fully instrumental, both bassist and guitarist usually delivered the same evolution on stage, getting closer in the course of each tune. Perhaps because of how late in the day it was, everything ended up sounding a little monotonous due to repetition. It was engaging music, but in a closed loop. Not to worry, they still had one of the largest audiences of the night.

Orange Goblin
Orange Goblin

It was the third time in ten editions that Orange Goblin were headliners at the festival. In fact, as always, they were fantastic. Ben Ward has a huge stage presence. The new bassist, Harry Armstrong, fitted in well with the rest of band, which started with “Scorpionica”, went on to “Sons of Salem”, visited “Made of Rats” and “The Filthy & the Few”, and even dedicated “Renegade” to Lemmy.

The last goodie on the bill, or almost the last, was Weedeater. Dave “Dixie” Collins’ irreverence becomes more genuine and less pantominesque than that of Bobby Liebling. A sign of Weedeater’s relevance was the presence of some members of Orange Goblin by a side-stage corner, bags in hand, attending a concert that often seemed out of control. The authors of “Jason… The Dragon” put on a very good gig. Dixie’s bass sound was monstrous, second only to Nick Olivieri at the festival. The hallucinated Dixie said goodbye to the audience in the middle of the concert, but ended up doing a longer performance than scheduled. Memorable!

Weedeater
Weedeater

After the North Americans, there was still time for a local band, in a tribute gig. Many still headed to the sea the next morning, before hitting the road, or the train. SonicBlast is more than a festival, it is an experience.